Evolutionary Features

Talossan is not your typical everyday planned “constructed language”. Rather, Talossan was developed from the ground-up through use and discovery, not planning and regularity. Almost alone among “conlangs”, Talossan therefore has a very natural “feel”, affecting the type of language that a typical human society would and could form and adopt, with its quirks, uniquenesses, and oddities as much a part of it as are those of any other human language.

Talossan is more than just a simple mapping of English words onto other letters and sounds. Although its many borrowings from Germanic language features make it perhaps easier for an English-speaker to learn than any of the other Romance languages, Talossan has some definite differences in the way thoughts are formed. While a direct translation of an English (or Spanish or French, etc.) sentence to Talossan word by word may get a new user most of the way to a proper Talossan sentence, the fact is that to speak fluently in Talossan means to “think” in Talossan. El glheþ has a number of features, some not seen in English, others seen in English but not in Talossan’s fellow Romance languages, and still others seen only in Talossan. Here is just a brief overview of some of these features that have developed in Talossan.

The Suppletive Verbs for “to have” and “to be”

Romance languages often distinguish between the attainment of a state (as in “I have painted”) and the possession of an object or trait (as in “I have paint”). English, as seen in those examples, uses “to have” for both purposes. Originally, the distinction was drawn in Latin between verbs that translate to English roughly as “to have” and “to hold”, and many Romance languages have maintained both verbs; for example, the Spanish verb pair here is haber (he pintado = “I have painted”) and tener (tengo pintura = “I have paint”).

Similarly, many Romance languages make a distinction between a permanent state of being and one that is temporary. For example, to say “I am human”, Spanish would use its verb ser (soy humano), but to say “I am at the airport”, it would use the verb estar (estoy en el aeropuerto).

English, of course, has only the single “to have” verb (which is why it is used in both “I have painted” and “I have paint”) and a single “to be” verb (which is why its form “am” appears in both “I am human” and “I am at the airport”). Talossan is more like English in this respect — the modern Talossan language has only a single “to have” verb and a single “to be” verb — this is helpful to the English-speaking learner.

In fact, Talossan in its historic past did support verbs that distinguished between these various senses, but over time one of the verbs in each pair fell away. In the case of its “to have” verb pair, Talossan’s historic verb þavarë has gone extinct, leaving the surviving verb tirh to be used for both meanings. This same merger is actually common as a natural occurrence in other Romance languages — for example, although Spanish retains its two separate Latin-derived “to have” and “to hold” verbs, Portuguese (like Talossan) has lost its verb that was originally cognate to Latin’s “to hold”, while French has made the other choice, using its “to hold” verb for both senses and seeing its original “to have” verb lapse into extinction.

In the case of the “to be” verb pair, Talossan’s verb estarh (which originally was used only to indicate a temporary state of being) has over time come to be used for all senses of “to be”, and Talossan’s other “to be” verb (the historic eßerë, which had been used to indicate a permanent state) became extinct. Just as happens in any other natural language undergoing such a significant merger of verbs, the two Talossan “to be” verbs could be said to have “fought it out” during the merger. As a result, another very natural evolution occurred. Many of the conjugated forms of the now-lost verb were adopted by the survivor, and this is why estarh has some of its particularly surprising irregular forms. For example, you can say either os estevent (a regular conjugation of estarh) or os füvent (a conjugation adopted from the extinct verb) and both of these phrases mean “they were”. In some conjugations, the forms of eßerë have even completely displaced the forms of estarh. For example, os sint means “they are”, but the expected form os estent is improper.

Irregularity in Conjugations and Declensions

The example given above concerning the irregularity of the conjugated forms of estarh (= to be) goes to show that Talossan was not planned on paper to force a regularity onto it that is not naturally found in human languages. Every language that has evolved naturally has its idiosyncracies in the forms of its verbs, and if Talossan were to conjugate every verb regularly, it would seem to be a far less real and believable language than it is.

That said, the number of verbs in Talossan that conjugate irregularly is not overwhelming to the learner (there are fewer than two dozen), and yet the list of these verbs (as is to be expected in a natural language) includes some of the most-used verbs. In addition to “to have” and “to be”, Talossan’s verbs for “to know”, “to want”, “to see”, and “to say” are among those that have some irregular conjugations. As an example, the verb pevarh (= to be able to) becomes os povent (= they are able to) and os pognhevent (= they were able to), rather than taking the expected regular forms os pevent and os pevevent, respectively. Notice that in this case, English also has irregular forms: “they can” and “they could”.

In addition to “natural” oddities in verb conjugations, Talossan has a very realistic set of plural declensions. Just as in English, in which there are many different ways that a plural is formed (“house” becomes “houses”, but “man” becomes “men” and “tooth” becomes “teeth”, etc.), Talossan words pluralise in different ways, and indeed some words don’t follow normal rules to form their plural. For example, casa (= house) becomes casas (= houses) and mes (= month) becomes mesen (= months) by following normal rules, but caciun (= dog) is one of the (thankfully for the learner, very few) words that has an irregular plural form, cician (= dogs).

The Verb of Motion (The Merger of Talossan’s “to come” and “to go” Verbs)

One of the truly unique features of Talossan is the fact that there are no separate verbs to distinguish between “to come” and “to go”. In the language’s historic past, this was not the case, but over time, the verb that had meant “to come” (viénarh) took on a different meaning (more about this in a minute), and the verb for “to go” (irh) began to also be used for “to come”, so that it is now called “the verb of motion”, and its meaning can be understood in English more as “to change location”.

Just as with the merger of the “to be” verbs (discussed above), this merger of “to come” and “to go” came with the adoption of some of the conjugated forms of viénarh in the use of irh. For example, while the future tense forms of “the verb of motion” are obviously formed from irh (such as os ischent = they will come/go), the past tense conjugations are just as obviously forms that were appropriated during the merger with viénarh (as seen in os venevent = they came/went).

What happened to viénarh is interesting and unique. Its meaning shifted subtly (and understandably; that is, naturally, realistically, and believably) from the physical meaning of “to come” (that is “to approach or to near some place, physically”) to a more temporal sense (that is, “to approach or to near some event, chronologically”). So while irh conveys a sense of motion in space, viénarh conveys the same sense in time. For example, compare os ischent à l’avendeziun (= they will be going [“moving”, “on their way”] to the dinner [that is, approaching the location of dinner]) with os venarhent à menxharh (= they will be about to eat [that is, approaching the time of dining]).

As we’ll see in the next discussion, the ability of irh to take “double duty” for both “go” and “come”, allowing for the shift in meaning of viénarh over time to indicate a “just about to” sense, is due at its root to the unique semantic “strength” of two very important Talossan prepositions.

The Significance of Talossan’s “to” and “from” Prepositions

An English speaker may initially wonder how a language can be usable with only a single “verb of motion”. How, you may wonder, does one distinguish between the senses of “to go” and “to come” if there is only one verb to serve both purposes. Yes, distinction quite often must be made to indicate which sense of motion (“going” or “coming”) is meant.

The way in which this is done is happily not very surprising. To make the distinction, one would simply employ either the preposition à (= to) or da (= from), just as in English. For example, os ischent à l’avendeziun (= they will be going [“moving”, “on their way”] to the dinner) and os ischent da l’avendeziun (= they will be coming [“moving”, “on their way”] from the dinner).

What is surprising is the “strength” of this distinction and the way in which this “strength” pervades and affects the entire language. In Talossan, the prepositions à and da are used not just to help “the verb of motion” distinguish between “to come” and “to go” but to help every Talossan verb distinguish between its two opposite meanings. Consider, then, how these prepositions allow viénarh (which, as we saw, is now the temporal equivalent of irh) to convey two different meanings: os venarhent à menxharh (= they will be just about to eat) and os venarhent da menxharh (= they will be just finished eating).

And irh and viénarh are not alone. This same semantic distinction is seen throughout the language in all compound verb forms. For example, os neceßent à menxharh (= they need to eat) and os neceßent da menxharh (= they need to not eat; that is, they need to avoid eating). This usage of da can perhaps be thought of as a shorthand for English phrasing such as, “they need [to keep] from eating”. When learning Talossan, the English speaker should keep this unique “strength” of the word for “from” in mind; while phrases like “they need from eat” make little sense in English, in Talossan, they perfectly convey the concept of the denial of the action of the verb. In English, there is no true concept of an “opposite” form of an infinitive, but in Talossan, the “opposite” of “to eat” can be said to be “from eat”.

More Prepositional “Strength”

As discussed above, the prepositions à and da are semantically quite “strong” in Talossan. In fact, the entire body of Talossan prepositions is uniquely “strong” among Talossan parts of speech.

In fluent speech, a Talossan word will tend to be “weakened” at its ending, to enhance flow of speech. For example, when la poarta apneva (= the door opened) is spoken, the final -a in poarta blends naturally into the approaching a in apneva and you could say that the phrase is actually often heard as la poart’ apneva.

However, Talossan prepositions are uniquely “strong” in speech, and resist this temptation. Instead of weakening at their ending, Talossan prepositions retain their full value, and force any and all modification to enhance flow of speech either onto the beginning of the next word, or by adopting a helpful new ending to preserve their full value in speech, and this is often reflected in writing. For example, neceßéu àð irmudzarh (= I need to eat breakfast).

Of course, no rule is 100% solid, and in this case, the exception is a rather important one; the preposition da does elide with an approaching verb (becoming d’), although it just as often takes the other approach. That is, both neceßéu d’irmudzarh and neceßéu dad irmudzarh are proper expressions for “I need to not eat breakfast” (that is, “I need to avoid eating breakfast”).

This “strength” of prepositions is heard in fluent speech, and is most evident in writing in prepositional phrases involving pronouns, where its indication is required. Notice how the “strength” of the preposition à forces the consonant at the beginning of the pronoun me to “mutate” (and take on the sound of a letter v) in the prepositional phrase à mhe (= to me). Compare this to a preposition that “flows” in speech into an approaching letter m without any change in either of the sounds required: sanc me (= without me). Even the ability of da to “break” this rule is denied when one particular pronoun is involved: dad üns is proper for “from us”, while d’üns is improper. (However, both d’eia and dad eia are seen for “from her”.)

Getting used to the “strength” of the Talossan preposition (in both meaning and speech), and especially to the reflection in the written word of its effect on the pronouns it introduces, is one key to becoming a more proficient user of Talossan.

Talossan’s “Group” Mindset

Unique among Romance languages, Talossan has undergone a merger very uncharacteristic for such a language, and that is the combination of the conjugated forms used for first- and third-person plural subjects.

While in its historic past, Talossan had separate forms — for example, parleux was “we are talking” while parlent was “they are talking” — over time, the -eux conjugation fell away and both senses are now conjugated using the -ent ending. That is, the word parlent is used for both “we talk” and “they talk”. This may actually seem stranger to someone familiar with Romance languages than it does to an English speaker, since in English, a great many subjects share conjugated forms: consider how both “we talk” and “they talk” use the same form of the verb and require the subject to be made explicit.

This same distinction, then, would be necessary in Talossan: noi parlent (= we talk) and os parlent (= they talk). However, despite this merger, Talossan still retains the Romance trait that the conjugation of a verb is almost always sufficient to supply information concerning the subject. That is, parléu is just as obviously “I talk” as is the same statement with the pronoun made explicit: éu parléu. In English, pronouns are almost always used, even when the conjugation might seem to make it unnecessary (for example, you would say “I am”, rather than simply “am”). In Talossan and other Romance languages, though, verbs are very often left alone to express the subject, and you will therefore see parlent used without supplying noi (= we) or os (= they) to make the subject explicit. The fact that the two conjugated forms have merged is evidence that in the Talossan mind, you might say that the concept “the group” is the more important semantic aspect being communicated, and whether the group does (“we”) or does not (“they”) include the speaker is somehow tangential. This is another unique oddity to “thinking in Talossan”, and to not “feel the need” for the group subject to be conveyed in a sentence like te burlescarhent (= some group [perhaps including me, perhaps not] will laugh at you) is an important adjustment to make when becoming fluent in Talossan. [Notice how English can convey a similar meaning, in this case by casting the sentence into the passive voice and omitting the agent: “you will be laughed at” (with the person or persons doing the mocking left unspecified).]